Across the nation, prisons are reintroducing gardens after a long hiatus. Prisoners are gardening at Rikers and at San Quentin. They’re gardening for a variety of reasons: to give food to the poor, to improve food quality at prisons, to help feed inmates and reduce prison health care costs…and as a form of restorative justice. They are turning prison yards into thriving gardens. The idea? Transformation.
“These guys have probably never seen something grow out of the ground,” says Kathleen Green, the warden at Eastern Correctional Institution, watching her inmates till the soil. “This is powerful stuff for them.”
Inmates are eager to take part in the garden programs; they are “lining up for the privilege of working 10-hour days in the dirt and heat.”
Gardens (and even farms) were once a fairly common feature at correctional institutions. Today, as prisons reintroduce gardening, some are turning to groups such as the Insight Garden Program,”which runs California’s prison gardens and is expanding nationwide.”
“The demand is huge,” says Beth Waitkus, the program’s director. “Prisons see the value of this. When you have to tend to a living thing, there’s a shift that happens in a person.”
Even prisoners with little hope of being released are eager to participate. Walter Labord, who is incarcerated in a Maryland prison, is one of those.
“It makes it feel like you still have it in you to do something good,” says Labord, now 39 and serving a life sentence for an armed robbery and murder in Prince George’s County back when he was a teenager.
Before he got into trouble, he used to work with his grandma at a church handing out food to the poor. “It felt good,” he says. “Now I’m giving back again.”
A riveting piece.